WITH more than 20,000 items stocked in our supermarkets and confusing packaging that screams claims of “20% less fat”, “low GI” or “low cholesterol”, making healthy choices can be a bewildering minefield.
Knowing how to decipher the nutritional information contained in food labels is the key to making healthy choices and being aware of what is in the food that we consume.
Dietitian and exercise physiologist Gabrielle Oliphant said the important thing when reading food labels was to look beyond the big print and the marketing claims.
“Products make big marketing claims, but you've got to look at what's actually in the products,” she said.
She said consumers needed to be aware of the healthy range and levels of fat, sugar, salt and fibre and to look at these levels in the products to be bought.
“In terms of fat, you want to look for products with less than 10% fat, Gabrielle said.
“For salt, you want to aim for less than 120mg per 100g and less than 10g of sugar per serve is a good level.”
However, she said if consumers only looked at one thing, then energy was the most important.
“I tell my clients to compare the kilojoules with a slice of bread which is about 300kj,” she said.
Gabrielle said she found that often people were surprised by the number of kilojoules in their favourite foods and how quickly their total kilojoule count could add up.
She advised that 300-400kj was a good snack size.
She said another important aspect to look at was the ingredients list.
“This lists ingredients in order of quantity within the product,” Gabrielle said.
“The ingredient used in the greatest amount is always listed first. It's important to look at what's making up the product.
“People focus on preservatives and additives but that's not a big issue.
“We live in the real world where you can't avoid it.”
She said while “fresh is best”, packaged food still could provide good nutrition as long as the packaging was read correctly.
“I generally advise people to allow an extra half-an-hour when shopping to read the labels,” she said.
Gabrielle held a seminar earlier this year for Budget Direct staff on how to read food labels and better understand nutritional values.
Mooloolaba's Richard Barakat was a participant and said the session had been a real eye-opener.
“It gave me a good understanding of what ranges of fat, sodium and sugar are acceptable,” he said.
“My personal interest is in what preservatives are in food and what the numbers mean.
“We have a seven-month-old baby (Kaden), so we think about what's going into his mouth.”
Always compare similar food products per 100g and choose the product with the least energy, fat, sugar and sodium and most fibre.
Low in fat < 10g total fat/100g (less than 10%).
Low in sodium <120mg/100g (this is very low salt).
Low in sugar <10g sugar/serving of the product.
High in fibre >5g per 100g
Review ingredients list.
Look out for alternative words used for fat, sugar, salt and fibre (milk solids, glucose, MSG, bran).
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